German power is now mostly seen in economic terms. Given its 20th century past, the dream of simply being a bigger Switzerland still holds a strong appeal to the German public: a country without any serious external security concerns, focused on prosperity and wellbeing.And yet recently Angela Merkel has put her country on a new course. She is redefining German power. This is not happening via grand speeches, but through concrete steps and sometimes discreet messages. And it is happening as a result of circumstances, not because of a comprehensively pre-prepared plan. Last year, in quick succession, war broke out in Ukraine, populist and extremist parties made strong gains in European elections, and the Greek conundrum returned to the eurozone. Because of all these crises, Merkel has been reappraising what her country should be doing as Europe’s powerhouse.
Take the Greek issue. The reason why Germany recently decided to give Greece a reprieve (if only for four months) by pursuing EU financial aid is not just that Alexis Tsipras backed down on most of his earlier demands. It is because Germany saw a larger strategic question beyond the immediate financial issue.
The reasoning goes like this: if Greece falls out of the eurozone, not just the common currency but the whole European project will be weakened. It would be a signal of disintegration at a time when geopolitical threats are graver than ever. Berlin paid close attention to the way Tsipras cosied up to Vladimir Putin’s Russia after his election, and to how he sent one of his ministers to Moscow, possibly in the hope of leveraging Russian financial support against Brussels’s offer. When the German chancellor recently warned that Russia might start eyeing up the Balkans next, she may not just have had Serbia, but also Greece, in mind.
…I have heard similar comments about how Germany sees the threat of “Brexit” – a British exit from Europe. Sources close to the Merkel point out that her message to David Cameron has been a strong warning, along the lines of “don’t play games with European politics”.
As strategic positions go, this new German assertiveness is still full of paradoxes. No doubt Merkel wasn’t quite expecting to find herself in such a position when she first got elected. One close observer of the chancellor, who has known Merkel since the start of her political career, told me Merkel would have much preferred to spend her successive terms in office concentrating on domestic issues such as industrial policy. But the fallout from the economic crisis and Russia’s threatening behaviour has pushed her into an altogether different role.
Full article: Merkel wants a braver Germany. But will the German people let her have it? (The Guardian)